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Tiny Habits: A Behavior Change Expert’s Perspective

As a behavior change expert, I often come across nonsensical tiny habit stacks that people struggle with. It’s interesting how these habits fail to make sense to the human brain, leaving individuals wondering why they can’t motivate themselves to perform even a single pushup. 

Today, I want to address the concept of tiny habits, a topic I frequently receive questions about. With my PhD in mindset and health behavior change, I consider myself an expert in this field. 

Two popular books in the self-development space that many people are familiar with are BJ Fogg’s “Tiny Habits” and James Clear’s “Atomic Habits.” While these books contain valuable insights, it’s important to avoid taking snippets of information out of context. 

In this blog, you’ll learn about three common mistakes people make when implementing the Tiny Habits paradigm and how it can hinder their success.


Mistake #1: Pairing Unrelated Tiny Habits


One significant error I often observe is individuals attempting to pair completely unrelated actions. For instance, BJ Fogg mentions an example in his book about doing a single pushup after brushing your teeth. 


People misinterpret this and start combining unrelated habits, hoping for positive results. For instance, they might decide to do a pushup every day after brushing their teeth. The problem lies in the stark contrast between these actions.


Our brains struggle with task switching, especially when the tasks have no connection. Brushing teeth serves a different purpose than doing a pushup—there’s a mismatch in reasoning, physical positions, and actions. 


This lack of coherence confuses the brain, making it challenging to establish the desired habit. 


To ensure successful habit stacking, it’s crucial to select actions that are related and allow for smooth transitions. 


For example, pairing the habit of taking a vitamin with filling a cup of water after brushing your teeth can build a logical progression toward the ultimate goal of taking the vitamin.


Mistake #2: Overemphasizing Ease and Triviality

One common misconception is that they should be effortless and trivial. The idea is to make the habits so easy that it becomes impossible not to do them. 


However, this notion overlooks a significant body of research on behavior change. Studies indicate that people are more likely to engage in habits that align with their values and contribute to their sense of fulfillment. 


While it may seem tempting to play with your dog on the floor in the morning and follow it with a single pushup, this pushup may not resonate with your value of physical activity. 


Meaningless habits devoid of personal significance are unlikely to be sustained. 


Moreover, developing habits that are slightly more challenging and require mental negotiation can help build skills and resilience. It’s comparable to teaching a kindergartner to read by solely using picture books (they would never learn to read). 


Progress is limited without gradually increasing the level of difficulty. 


Change should not be approached with an expectation of constant ease but rather as an opportunity to prove to ourselves that we can overcome challenges and grow. 


You can do hard things!

Mistake #3: Tiny Habits Reinforces Rigid Thinking

Many of the individuals we work with in Change Academy or Alliance Coaching, tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers, seeking to become more flexible in their mindset. 


Unfortunately, Tiny Habits often reinforce rigid habits. 


For instance, someone aiming to tidy their bedroom every day may start with the tiny habit of fluffing a single pillow. However, the binary nature of this—either you succeed or you fail—can be detrimental to individuals who already struggle with all-or-nothing thinking. 


These individuals tend to use binaries against themselves, leading to feelings of failure and self-criticism. They might think, “I couldn’t even fluff one pillow this morning; I’m such a failure.” 


This rigid mindset negatively affects their motivation and overall mindset. 


To avoid this pitfall, it’s essential to approach habits with a more flexible perspective, acknowledging progress and embracing the learning journey, rather than fixating on absolute success or failure.


While “Tiny Habits” and “Atomic Habits” are valuable self-development books, it’s vital to grasp the underlying concepts correctly. 


These three common mistakes of pairing unrelated habits, emphasizing triviality over personal significance, and reinforcing rigid thinking patterns…. Often hinder the success of implementing lasting change with your habits.

By selecting related actions, infusing meaning into our tiny habits, and fostering flexible thinking, we can create a more effective behavior change strategy. 


Change is not always easy, but it’s through perseverance and embracing the challenges that we truly grow and develop.



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Hi, I'm Karin

I’m a funfetti flavor super-fan, a loving dog mom, a PhD expert in mindset and behavior change… and I’m here to help make personal development and transformation a process that’s actually fun.


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